The ASP: Bark…and Bite
I feel sorry for the ASP. In the very serious world of professional surfing, there is only one true constant: The ASP is a perpetual punching bag – not only for fans, but also for pundits, pros, and peripatetic surfers worldwide. At the risk of being patronizingly ironic, I’d like to offer an unsolicited consultation to ameliorate the ASP’s most recent run of location-based condemnation. So here goes: ASP, once you recognize the value of your product, set your own terms and stick to them, you’ll feel much better. And so will we.
After the public bemoaned the atrocious conditions in Brazil and the conspiratorial “Big City Tour” (with additions in New York City, San Francisco, and a new WQS event in Sydney 2012) all eyes darted contemptuously at ASP officials as if they were wholly culpable in executing egregious scheduling blunders. That sounds reasonable at first glance. The problem is – they don’t see it that way – as evidenced by a recent, desperate plea propositioning brands (or anyone, including our grandmothers) to fund a new event at G-Land. “Only you can restore the Dream Tour. Oh, it costs 3 million dollars. Make it happen!” – Love, The ASP 8) .
Thus far, their plea has gone unanswered. More importantly, the gesture revealed a pathetic imbalance of power in their operation and in competitive surfing overall.
“We are just a sanctioning body,” said Meg Bernardo, Executive Manager for ASP North America in a phone interview in March. “We don’t have those funds to actually sponsor events so we have to rely on the outside to come forward to put up money to fund the events.”
And therein lies the problem. The ASP undervalues its own existence. They think they’re just a sanctioning body, so they defer responsibility to their patrons, which is ironic, because once upon a time, the ASP took itself very seriously.
For instance, did you know that the ASP has an 87-page rule book chock-full of detailed regulations about how their athletes must carry themselves? I’m not sure if the ASP knows about it either, because I swear they’d be able to fund their events on fines alone if they enforced the assiduously detailed list of rules. (Exaggeration.) Just for fun, let’s break out the abacus and laugh our way to the bank. From the ASP Rule Book:
- Profane or abusive language at an event venue: $1,000 – $5,000
- Failure to attend a media event (if asked): $2,000
- Failure to attend a post-event press release: $2,000
- Failure to attend WQS events entered: $500 – $2,000
- Equipment abuse (person’s own equipment): $500 – $1,500
- World Champion not attending all events during the year of his/her title: $10,000 per event.
- Failure to compete to the best of one’s ability during all events: $5,000 – $50,000
- Verbal Assault: $1,000 – $3,000
- Physical Assault: $5,000 – $15,000
Also worth mentioning is article 163.01, which permits drug testing at any ASP event. The consequences for a positive test result require a one-year suspension from competition as well as the forfeiture of championships, titles, and rankings for the season in which the violation occurs. I’m not sure if a drug test has ever happened in the ASP’s history. Maybe it has. I don’t know.
Drug policy aside, based exclusively on the rule book, the ASP is an organization with bite, and one that takes its authority seriously. It’s not a powerless infrastructure that begs for sponsorship to subsist; I’d like to see them embrace their power as the world’s premier competitive surfing body. Chin up, chest high!
Set your terms confidently. Don’t beg for events (especially not publicly). When negotiating the 2012 schedule, slam your fist on the table, look your sponsors square in the eye, and say: “If you want to sponsor an event on the ASP World Tour™, here are your options: G-Land, Jeffreys Bay, Rincon, etc…. Your surfers better show up. On time. And no cussing. Or else.”
Then, and only then, can the ASP claim accountability for its product. If it continues to see itself as a toothless vessel for brands to craft their image, it will never earn the respect required to legitimize surfing as a competitive sport (which I think is their end game). It’s just an attitude shift, really. There’s always room for good-natured compromise and collaboration, but it’s worthwhile to remind sponsors that if professional surfing and world championships are as important and influential to the global surfing community as they claim, the ASP is sitting on gold. And their sponsors better respect that.